Armenia hosts Russian troops on its territory primarily because of a perceived security threat from Turkey, rather than Azerbaijan, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisted on Wednesday.
“We have no problem from the Azerbaijani direction,” he said. “With the existing forces at our disposal, we not only can defend ourselves against Azerbaijan but also take, if need be, preemptive, counteroffensive or other measures.”
Speaking at a meeting with members of a pro-government youth organization, Ohanian stressed in that context the importance of a 2010 agreement that extended Russian military presence in Armenia until 2044. The agreement also upgraded the security mission of the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri, an Armenian city close to the Turkish border.
Moscow has since beefed up the base numbering between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers with heavy weaponry. It is due to deploy about two dozen combat helicopters in Armenia this year.
Azerbaijan’s military ties with Turkey also appear to have deepened in the last few years. Ankara is thought to have provided Baku with weapons and technical assistance since the late 1990s.
Ohanian suggested that the Turkish military would at least “indirectly” intervene in case of a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. But he expressed confidence that the Russian-Armenian military alliance would neutralize such intervention.
“The presence of the Russian base as well as acquisition of modern weaponry, notably long-range precision-guided systems, allows us to put in place a mechanism of strategic deterrence and impose peace on the enemy,” said the minister.
The 2010 treaty commits Russia to supplying such weapons to Armenia. Ohanian hinted late last month that the Armenian army will obtain soon Russian Iskander missiles capable of striking targets more than 400 kilometers away.